We checked into our rooms; I was glad to see that Ewan and I were sharing one. After we had unpacked our things he took me in his arms. The ferocity of the day and his return to my life had left me feeling confused, exhausted and excited.
“Let’s not stay downstairs all night,” I said. “Can’t we...”
“Follow my lead,” he said. “But we must make a showing. And I’d like to see the report.”
“I suppose so.”
We made quite a large table, with all six of Fred’s group there, but it was a quiet and rather tired gathering. I wanted to be talking to Ewan and the effort of making conversation to the others was almost too much for me.
Once we’d finished we moved to the bar, where there was a TV. I scarcely paid it any attention as we were taking our seats, until Neal suddenly shouted.
It was a pop concert in a huge hall somewhere, and a young woman was singing, seated at a keyboard, with a group behind her. She was Patty McCann, a singer I remembered from before The Problems. And what she was singing was Joining the Future; it was a slow, anthemic number, and behind her you could see the audience swaying, holding lighters in the air.
“Oh my God,” I said, and sank into a chair.
Neal was laughing and pointing at me.
“Did you set this up, Susan?” I said.
“No. I wish we had, but we didn’t. It’s just taken off.”
“It won’t last,” I said. “It’s just a craze. The kids will soon get cynical about it.”
“Some will, and some won’t,” said Ewan. “It’s perfectly normal. There are ways to handle that stuff and we can talk about it later.”
“Good song, though,” said Max, as the concert faded and the news started.
But it was simply the usual mix of home and foreign stories, with no mention of us at all. Then the newsreader finished by suggesting we should stay tuned for a special report from Birmingham, and I knew we were in for the heavy treatment.
“Oh no,” I said. “Is this going to be good or bad?”
The report started with a sequence of depressing shots from round Birmingham with downbeat music. Then we were in the studio, with a man I remembered seeing in the TV crew at the school.
The streets of Birmingham. My name is Andrew Mason, and this is my city, my home city, where I’ve lived all my life, and which I still love with the despairing love of someone who sees their beloved sink into alcoholism or madness. Where all of us have had to endure some of the worst fighting, some the worst atrocities, some of the worst devastation in the country. Where still we have scarcely begun to sort out the mess, or start on the long road to reconstruction.
And this is Madigan High School, one of our large inner city schools. Two thousand students, from all our various groups, because in Birmingham, once you look closely, everyone is a minority. That’s one of the reasons why it was so hard for us here. The stories those two thousand students have to tell would break your hearts if you heard them all. And to this school today came the Standard Clothing and the Golden Circle, and one thousand of those students became controlled children. I went there to see how it would work out.
We saw him walk in through the gate, and the bloodthirsty hoarding behind him.
It was quite a day, he continued in the studio. Let’s just have a look at some of the actors in this drama. One by one, close-ups of each of us were shown, talking, thinking. Nasrullah Khan, deputy head, humanitarian extraordinary. Rajinder Singh and Paca Ortega, Sikh and Filipina, clear-sighted and courageous leaders of their peers. Jack Marchmont, charismatic and brilliant. His brother Neal, enchanting and compassionate. Max Margrave and Eloise Parr, minister and head teacher, staying out of the limelight.
Let me declare an interest. I applied to be a mentor, and I’ve just been approved. Because of where I live, when I’m finally assigned a pupil, he or she will very likely be one of these children, and that hasn’t been something I’ve looked forward to, because Madigan doesn’t have a good reputation. But today I learnt a lesson about that, and several other things.
“I like you, Andrew Mason,” said Max.
All the morning, the children were being measured and fitted with their Standard Clothing and Golden Circles, and I became increasingly aware of an atmosphere of rising tension.
As as he spoke there were a series of short clips of students arguing, some in lifesuits and some not, groups confronting each other, and so on.
There are many groups here, as there are in Birmingham as a whole, different races, different religions. And there is blood between them. This is not academic: there are people, many people, who have lost relatives, parents, brothers and sisters. There is much hatred, and many people feel the most important things in their lives are threatened by what’s happening here today.
We saw the children filing into the hall.
Into this comes Jack Marchmont.
The camera kept pace with me walking in my cloak down a corridor in the school. My face was serious and intent, and the others were following behind me. I was surprised, because I’d changed: I looked determined, strong and even a little arrogant. I thought that Fred and the general would be pleased.
“I need a haircut,” I said.
I admit, Mason continued, that as an old media hand I’ve been cynical about the Marchmont phenomenon. I’m familiar with the mechanisms of celebrity; I know how these things are worked, and I wasn’t impressed. I found it hard to believe that this child was responsible for the pieces of writing which have appeared over his name. I felt we were being taken for a ride, probably quite a good ride and to a good destination, but a ride nonetheless.
It’s not like that when you see it, believe me. Marchmont was confronted by a thousand resentful and divided children, most of whom resoundingly booed him when he started. He produced a barnstormer of a speech, by turns hectoring, angry, compassionate and challenging, which tore them to pieces and had them on his side. It was a bravura performance, but what amazed me, checking later, was that it followed government policy with total orthodoxy.
We saw me speaking, walking back and forth, gesticulating. I hadn’t realised how much I moved around.
I’m not going to repeat this speech, important though it was, because it’s the rest of the day I want to look at. But this is the core of what Marchmont had to say.
As I spoke, we saw not me, but the faces of the children who were watching. The camera panned along the lines of faces, all different races, boys and girls, and you could see their distress. Some were weeping, some had their faces buried in their hands.
I’m looking out in this hall, and there are people from five or six different religions here, and all of them in their history have done good and beautiful things. And every single religion has been involved in the horribleness in this city. Not all their members, but some. Every single religion. Am I right?
Not good enough, people! Can anyone honestly claim that no one has been killed in the name of their religion? You know it isn’t true! You know that there are groups in every single one of them which have blood on their hands. Am I right? Please, people, be honest. I know it hurts, but am I right?
You had to be there, Mason continued, to appreciate the way that so many of these kids were hurting at this point. What they had just done was to accept an identity with all the students in other religions and races who had suffered, and to admit that their own religions were not faultless. It’s a truly revolutionary moment. And then Marchmont offers them a way out, a solution.
And now we saw the kid’s faces again, their pain and also the beginning of hope.
But we can do something about it. We can. What we need is people who can spot the nastiness and reject it. Who can see through the confusion and layers and layers of history, and find what is good in each religion, and build on that. But you can’t do that if you’re mixed up in the whole thing. You have to take a step back.
And that’s what all this is about. We are all going to step away from our religions, and from our races, and from everything which divides us. We’re going to step back from all that until we’re twenty. We’re going to learn to think, and learn to reject the things that make us hate.
Notice what Marchmont is saying, said Mason, and it’s down-the-line government policy. Not: all religions are evil. Not: abandon your religion. Just: step back for a while, and think, so that you can find the good that’s there. It’s carefully aimed.
That we sacrifice our freedom, our freedom of religion for one thing, for that time, so that our country and our communities, and even our religions can be renewed, built on the fact that we’re all human beings, not on hatred. ... That’s the marvellous thing about being a controlled child. I said before, we will be a mighty generation, and people in the future will gasp in wonder at what we will achieve.
In place of the horror and infamy of the recent past, he holds up the prospect of glory and honour, said Mason. And it carries him, finally, into the appeal.
That’s what I’m asking everyone to do, to help me, to help us, to do this. Please, everyone. I’m begging you. Will you help?
And they say yes; of course they do. Marchmont has put them face-to-face with their pain and confusion, and provided them with a way out. Of course they take it. And having seen Marchmont speak, there’s no doubt in my mind that this was indeed his own work, because it was clearly entirely extempore. When it comes to this boy, and it’s sometimes hard to remember that that’s what he is, I’m a convert.
But remarkable as the speech was, what followed was even wilder, and that was the Joining, as it’s called. It starts quietly enough. The students are mostly going back to their classes, leaving behind this remarkable pair: Rajinder Singh and Paca Ortega, clearly carefully selected by Mr Nasrullah. The Marchmonts take them down onto the floor, and the quiet, almost private ritual is carried out; they make their pledge in the words you can see on posters up and down the land, and then learn the words by heart. It’s in the nature of this ritual that it happens orally. What else are they saying? I don’t know. It’s adjusted for each person. This is not a mass event, but a thousand personal events, and it’s in its nature that we don’t know. But I spoke to this pair afterwards.
Rajinder: This is the way forwards. It has to be. It’s up to us, the young people, to decide to make a new country here. It’s up to us to reject all the hatred and move on. I’m a Sikh, and the basis of my religion is that all religions are one, and all humanity is one. Now I won’t be able to wear a turban or the other signs, but I can live with that, to build a new world, I certainly can.
“Brilliant!” said Max.
Paca: I’ve already moved away from my religion. There are parts which are good, of course there are, but most of them are shared with other religions. I think if I can help to move other kids away from hatred and violence I’ll be doing what human beings are supposed to do. Doing something difficult to make a difference, that appeals to me.
After that, said Mason, it was four more, and then it just snowballed.
And we saw the familiar picture of the hall, full of joining quartets.
The protocol of the Joining is that adults aren’t involved. The torch is being passed from controlled child to controlled child, in this case from the Marchmonts to Paca and Rajinder, who are called the pyramid-points for this school, and from them into the rest of the school. But if you look, you can see that each child is being handled individually. Sometimes Jack or Neal is involved. But increasingly the other students are going to Rajinder and Paca, and then to the ones in the next layer, and finally to everyone.
And there are many problems here, many children crying, some showing anger. Watch Neal Marchmont comforting this girl, who was being abused daily by her uncle. Here he is again, this time with a boy who wanted to leave his parents’ extremist church but had been unable to. Jack, talking to a Muslim girl whose parents wanted to marry her to a cousin in Pakistan. Rajinder, discussing things with a fellow Sikh. Paca, talking to two girls who had been raped by members of their church. I managed to snatch a few words with Neal Marchmont
Mason: How’s it going, Neal?
Neal: It’s going well. But I’ve never been in a school where so many people are hurting. A lot of bad things have happened here.
Mason: It’s surprising that you can persuade people to accept losing their freedom.
Neal: Really, I don’t think we’re taking any freedom from a lot of these kids. I don’t think they had any to start with, and really I think we’re giving them more.
“That’s great, brother,” I said. “Really good.”
Later, after a harrowing discussion with a boy, I saw Neal grab his brother and Rajinder, and they went into a corner to do the ritual themselves. Because this little ritual is used by controlled kids to centre themselves and give each other help. It’s all about helping each other. This is Sam Carter—I have permission from his guardian to show him—his guardian being Mr Nasrullah. He has Downs syndrome, and these two girls, who refused to be named, spent nearly two hours teaching him the words. And they succeeded. I had a short chat with Sam afterwards.
Mason: What have you learned today, Sam?
Sam: I am not afraid.
Mason: Aren’t you frightened of being a controlled child?
Sam: No. Cos if I’m that, then I won’t be like the crazy people and kill people when I grow up. And if all the kids do that, then everyone will be nice, and everything will be better. And maybe people will stop shouting “duh!” at me in the street.
“Oh, my darling boy!” said Max.
Mason: So you’re not afraid.
Sam: No. Because I—I am the future!
That just about says it for me. Let me say, after watching this afternoon: I would be proud and delighted to have any single child from this school as my pupil. If you’re thinking about being a mentor—stop thinking, and apply. It might do more good than you can imagine.
The afternoon finished with everyone reciting it together, under Jack Marchmont’s direction. But I thought we’d end with Sam’s performance—to accompany a little vandalism carried out by the Minister for Children and a few of his friends. And thanks to all at Madigan High for a much needed slice of optimism.
And we heard Sam’s voice reciting Joining, while we saw Max, carrying a rope, gather together a group of kids from the hall and run laughing across the road to the hoarding we had hated. He threw the rope round it, and they all began to heave. I am not afraid! said Sam as it crashed to the ground. The kids danced on it and we all cheered.
“What a fantastic report!” I said. “He actually thought about it, didn’t he?”
“Yes,” said Max. “Also I think he really cares. It was brilliant. Rajinder and Paca came across well. And Sam was a total sweetie. And how about Nasrullah? With a Downs foster kid?”
“How about you, pulling down that sign?” said Tony.
“Well, I’d had enough. Bureaucratic shite! What’s the use of being a military régime if we can’t do what we like? We’ll have a constitution before you can whistle for breakfast, and then we’ll have to go back to being respectable. In the meantime, no racist hoardings are safe from Max and the Madigan Boot Boys!”
“He will break a lesser rule when a greater good compels him,” said Tony.
“Neal was the one Mason really liked,” I said. “I think he was a bit suspicious of me.”
“Not suspicious,” said Max. “It was more he was in awe of you, I think.”
I stared at him in complete astonishment.
“You’ve given me a lot to think about this afternoon, Jack,” he went on. “A lot. You directed the whole thing, you knew exactly what to do, and you did it. And I know that’s not all—Tony’s been telling me about all the other stuff you’ve been doing, dealing with kids and teachers, and I saw it myself today; you’re scarcely off the phone. How many schools is it? Twenty? And another twenty-seven your neighbourhood teams have done, and you’re in touch with all of them, aren’t you?”
“I guess,” I said.
“You’ve become a leader, Jack. You have a position, and responsibility and a name. You have your own policies, and you have followers all over the country. You have power.”
Although I’d never thought in exactly those terms, what he said wasn’t new to me. But just at that moment it made me feel uncomfortable and confused.
“Think of it from Mason’s point of view,” said Max. “You’re a kid, but you turned that school upside down. And he could see straight away how vital the Joining is, and what you were doing for those kids, and I’m beginning to see it too.”
“Yes,” said Ewan, “after today and after looking at Susan’s disk, it’s a clear to me that being a controlled child is a hell of a lot more difficult than we thought it would be. If you haven’t seen the disk of the meeting at Chedley High the other day, Max, you really need to.”
“Definitely. And how about that speech today! It was almost frightening, in a way. How the hell do you do that, with zero preparation? It’s uncanny.”
“Remember we talked about it on the ramchopper?” I said. “I mean, Mason said how wonderful that it was government policy but my mind was stuffed with it. And something Mr Nasrullah said just before we started, that these were all kids who had suffered, I mean he’s right in there, he sees it from the kids’ point of view—not as just a row of problems but a thousand kids who’ve all been through hell. So suddenly I thought if I ask them those questions they’ll see that everyone’s been hurt, and maybe we can take from there. I was following my nose. One day I’ll get lost and it’ll be a disaster.”
“You know, I’d never heard you make a speech before,” said Ewan. “When did you start doing that?”
“The first time, that was when Chedley High got their Golden Circles,” I said. “Tony and Mr Andrews just pushed me out on the stage and said, hey, look after them. What could I do? I mean, Neal was out there with them and they were on the point of panicking.”
“I thought you’d just answer a few questions,” said Tony. “You know, tell them don’t worry, it’s all okay, no problems.”
“Tried it,” I said, “but it didn’t work. There was this bunch of first-years in front of the stage and they were white with terror. There were all sorts of rumours in the school, you know? So I switched to the stuff about how great it is to be a controlled child, some stuff I’d been thinking myself, and completely wrecked Susan and Bill’s strategy.”
“You were right though,” said Susan. “Our line was impossible once the controls were public.”
“What’s the plan for tomorrow?” said Neal.
“Thrampton Road Junior,” said Tony. “There’s 150 kids, nine, ten and eleven. Start there at nine o’clock, we should be able to finish and get back to the Centre for a late lunch.”
“So breakfast at eight, I suppose,” said Ewan. “I think we’ll turn in.”
“You and Jack?” said Max.
“He’s my pupil,” Ewan growled fearsomely. “He goes to bed when I say he goes to bed. And I say now!”
“Oops!” I said. “Night, everyone!”
I ran out of the bar with Ewan in hot pursuit. We stopped at the desk to get our key.
“Oh yes, sir, we had to change your room,” said the man. “We’ve moved your luggage. I hope you find the room satisfactory....”
Slightly miffed, we took the key and went up in the lift to a completely different floor. Greatly daring, I wrapped my arm round him as we walked along the corridor.
“I missed you,” I said. “I missed you so, so much. I was almost certain you’d left me for good. I don’t care what you do to me, just never make me think you’ve left me again. I’d rather—I’d rather you whipped me than that.”
“I can’t leave you. The Indenture—legally it’s not possible. I can’t whip you, for that matter. The assault control...”
“Max turned it off when I went to Dan’s.”
“I hate it that you went through that. You must tell me about it later.”
“Fuck me tonight,” I whispered in his ear, as he fumbled with the key to our room.
“Not tonight. But I will. When the time is right.”
The door opened. And the room was filled with candles, that was my first thought: dozens and dozens, along the tables and the windowsills and the bed head, everywhere. The bed was huge and turned back ready, and on it was an envelope. As if in a dream I picked it up, the candles flickering in the draft.
“Shut the door,” I said. “Look. It’s addressed to us.”
He looked over my shoulder as I opened it. It was a card, and it showed just the Golden Circle, and inside, in Max’s handwriting: Congratulations and Good Luck. And the signatures: Tom Baxter. Sally Baxter. Uncle Alan. Auntie Judy. Neal. Mat and Marcus. Max and Carrie, and all their kids. Dan and Jeff. Tony, Susan, Lakshmi, Marietta. Bill. Fred and all his men. And beneath those: Nasrullah Khan, Rajinder Singh, Paca Ortega. And at the bottom of the page: We love you.
“Wow,” I said. “They cared enough... They cared enough to collect these signatures from all over, and to put all these candles... They really cared, didn’t they?”
He turned my face to his.
“Why shouldn’t they? Everyone who knows you, loves you, Jack. May I kiss you?”
“You don’t have to ask. I’m your pupil. You can do what you like.”
“Sometimes I won’t ask, and sometimes I will. Just now I’m asking. May I kiss you?”
“If you don’t soon, I shall scream.”
So he kissed me, and it was like coming home. It was peace at the heart and the return to happiness. Then he sat on the bed and did it again, with me standing between his legs.
“Take your clothes off, my pupil,” he whispered.
He did something to his hand, and I felt the silence control come on, and it almost pushed me over the edge. This time I could open my mouth, but still I couldn’t make a sound, I couldn’t talk or moan or laugh. As I slid out of my lifesuit, the silence control was like his hands on me from a distance, like his hands held softly but firmly over my mouth, gagging me. The moment I was naked, he picked me up and lay me on the bed, and his mouth was on me, swallowing me. I felt his tongue swirl round me, his hands on my balls, and in my enforced silence it was almost too intense to bear. Then he sat back on his heels between my legs.
“Tomorrow, Max is going to talk to you about the mentor controls, all of them,” he said. “Part of the new ‘keep Jack informed’ policy. But I’ll tell you what one of them is. Doesn’t work yet, but when it does: I twiddle the wheel, and you can’t come. No matter what you do, you can’t. For days and days, I stop you. You get hotter and hotter, more and more frustrated. Maybe it’s a week, maybe two. You beg me and beg me, I silence you, all you can do is look, look and plead with your eyes...”
It was too much, too much after a day of hanging on the edge, frantic to hold him, after a fortnight when I scarcely once managed to bring myself off, I’d been so depressed. I arched my back, and silently, without even being touched, I came, bursting again and again, all over my body and his face.
“Oh yes,” he whispered. “So perfect, so perfect. We are going to have such times.”
He lay beside me and held me as I recovered myself. Then he took me into the bathroom, and just as I had dreamed, we showered in the darkness, with me unable even to speak. I felt his hands on me, all over me, and I imitated him, moving my soapy hands over his body, over his face, and then down, and his dick and balls were fully in my hands for the first time. I marvelled at the feel of them, and moved them gently, so gently, while my lips found one of his nipples, and I was working him; but after only a few strokes he screamed and came, and I felt his juices in the shower spray, falling on my body. He held me gently, and I thought I was in heaven; and he knelt before me, my mentor, and once again my dick was in his mouth, and now he was more assertive, knowing I was less on edge, his hands on my cheeks held me firmly against him. He was sucking me harder and harder, and I felt his soapy hands move into my crack. One of them touched my opening, and it was like lightning striking into my guts. I convulsed in his arms and came again, as silently as ever, and the containment of my voice was a perfection, a soft, delicious grip on my soul. I abandoned myself into his control, and ecstasy consumed me.
I lay on his chest, face down, and he stroked my hair. All around us the candles guttered and flickered, and the smell, the intimacy of the light, reminded me of something, something in my early childhood which I couldn’t remember, some memory of home and love. He stroked my hair and my back, and it was complete peace and contentment. If I die tomorrow, I thought, it won’t matter after this moment, because this is all I want from life.
He had turned the silence control off, and that was right too, now, because it was also good to talk, to be close enough, to have time enough, to talk.
“When I first saw you,” he said, “I just thought: nice, a pretty boy. And he’s—looking, you know? You get to recognise that. And I liked your uncle, so I came back that evening, and it was nice, because your uncle and aunt were intelligent open-minded people, and you and Neal were as bright as buttons, and you were still looking, so I thought I’d spend some more time with you.”
“You could tell I was looking? How embarrassing! Mind you, Neal spotted you that first day, he noticed you were looking at me.”
“Really? He’s so bright. Anyhow, the next day I arranged for that TV crew to be at your school, because I thought the two of you would make good pictures. And that’s how it started. And I discovered that you had a way with words, and a knack of getting through to people, of making them like you. Also that there was a strong submissive streak in you, but very confused. I was enchanted. I fell in love with you hard, and very quickly.”
“It was a wonderful time for me, it was like the world opening up, after The Problems, suddenly there was this wonderful man who was interested in me, just for me, because I never really thought much of myself. And you said such lovely things, that being with me was so important, and so on. I loved it. I was submitting to you, I could feel it. But then...”
“I know, I know...”
He gripped me tightly.
“Why did you do that?” I said. “I mean really, why did you? Because, well, I didn’t say this at the meeting, but it was—it was horrible. It was like when our parents died, as bad as that. It was so sudden, one minute we were talking and planning for the future, the next I was in a kind of black hole...”
“I’ve been with young teenagers before, and I’ve been hurt before. Somehow I felt that you hadn’t suffered enough to be trusted with my life. Does that sound cruel? I was going to put you through a bad spell, to see if you’d stick it out. I felt I already loved you, but it didn’t seem like you had done a lot to earn that love. Does that make sense? Looking back, those were cruel things to feel, but that’s what it was. I thought you could do with some growing up. I had no idea that you’d suffer the way you did. None of the other teenagers I was with would have bothered much.”
For a while I didn’t know what to say, I was so shocked by his words.
“You were in charge. Even before you were my mentor, before you left me. I made you the master of our relationship, I gave you the right to do whatever you chose with it. That’s what Dan taught me, he made me accept whatever you planned for me. I still do, I can’t withdraw from that. But I had suffered before we even met. I lost my parents; I heard the burnings in the park, I spent a year terrified that someone would find out I was gay and have me burnt too. Do you know what a child sounds like while he’s being burnt alive?”
“Yes,” he whispered. “I know. I’ve heard that sound. You should never have had to hear it.”
He stroked my back quietly for a while. I said nothing. These reasons were worse than any of the others he had given, but still in the back of my mind was the feeling I had had before, that they were not complete. And now, dimly, I began to perceive what was missing, and how it would affect what I had become; and that evening I couldn’t face it.
“But I haven’t finished my story,” he said. “Because when I came back I discovered how wrong I’d been. Because there’s far more to you than I thought, layers and depths I never guessed about. But the others, they found them, didn’t they? Alan, Max and Tom and George, Dan and Jeff, Tony and Susan, they were the ones who had the joy and privilege of finding that out. They were the ones who read the Request first, and heard your speech at Chedley, and they found out how deep and beautiful your submission runs. They saw Joining the Future recited for the first time, and the first kids’ faces light up as you showed them how they could make it. They were there for it all, and I missed it. That’s my punishment, Jack, and it’s bitter, oh God! it’s bitter...”
I felt him shake, and to my horror I realised that he was crying.
“There’s one thing,” I said, determined to give him some gift. “I’m your Pupil, and I’m—I’m your lover. I’m yours, all of me is yours. You will direct me now, and decide how I develop and everything that happens. None of them will have that, only you. You’re the only one I shall ever call my mentor.”
For a long while he was silent.
“Thank you, my Pupil. Thank you, my dear lover.”
I licked his chest.
“You taste of soap... I’ll tell you something. On Monday last week there was this meeting, me, Max and Tony, Bill and Susan, and we finalised the shape of Joining the Future and Max laid out the plan for the schools we’d visit over the last two weeks. Then he told us they were going to announce the discipline, you know? as the first mentor control, they were going to announce it that evening. And I almost lost it. But somehow I kept my cool and argued against it, and Susan and Bill backed me up. So in the end Max agreed to announce the silence control first, as it’s much easier to sell. Of course I still hated it, not for me but for all the other kids, and we had a ferocious row in the bus going to the first school, the school where his kids are, in fact.”
“I told them it was daft to do the discipline first. You and Susan and Bill were entirely right.”
“But the thing is, you know how protective my uncle is? Usually he’s in there, battling for me. But he didn’t. He said it was a row between colleagues and none of his business. And he said I was an important person now, taking executive decisions in high-level meetings, and if I was being mistreated I had my own remedies, and basically I should stop wingeing and grow up.”
“What did you say?”
“Nothing. He was right, and I apologised to Max. But the thing is there’s stuff I need from you. I really need a mentor, Ewan.”
He was silent for a while.
“Look in my bag,” he said, finally. “There’s a folder of papers for new mentors. Bring it over here.”
I untangled myself reluctantly, and got it for him.
“Sit there,” he said, pointing to a spot on the bed.
I sat and crossed my legs.
He rifled through the papers, but already I knew what he was looking for. He handed it to me.
“Read it to me, my Pupil. Tell your mentor what you want from him.”
I looked at him for a moment, and he reached out and caressed my hair and face. Strangely, I wasn’t hard. Something made me change the title back to the original.
“My Mentor,” I began.
I read it through carefully. And as I did, a strange thing happened: the whole atmosphere of the piece changed for me. As I finished it, I smiled at him, and he held out his arms.
“Everyone likes that piece, but I never did,” I said. “To me it was about loss, that’s all; loss and pain. But this time it was different.”
“I’m glad,” he said. “Because it’s beautiful. And clever, too. And wise. There’s a lot there. Did you see George’s interview with JoAnne Rossi? It’s on Susan’s disk.”
“Yes. Tony showed it to us in Chedley yesterday.”
“It was shocking to start with, for me. That was before I saw everything that happened in Birmingham, and Mason’s report. I understand what George meant now, and I can see I have a huge responsibility, to be Jack Marchmont’s mentor. Can you accept now how significant you’ve become?”
“I’m beginning to see that I have a lot of responsibilities,” I said.
“C’mon,” he said. “Go through the Request and tell me who uses bits of it as mottoes.”
“That was an order, my Pupil,” he said, smiling.
“Okay. This is my hope—that’s George Padmore’s Ministry. He will tend me and care for me and help me grow and unfold—that’s the Ministry for Children. Kindly and firmly he will guide and control me, and take me forwards step by step—that’s the Provisional Administration itself. He will stand beside me against everything that threatens me—that’s the Ministry for Security. And Stand Beside is what Fred’s team call their operation.”
“Oh, yes! I missed that. Those boys are total Jack fanatics, you know that? I’m sure Tanner fancies you, too.”
I blushed again.
“So does Dan,” I said. “He wants to fuck me, he said. He said he would approach my mentor...”
“What? The cheek of it! Mind you... Hmmmm... Not for a year or two, I think. Proceed, my Pupil.”
“I will be his comrade as well as his pupil, and our partnership will astonish the world—the Chief Executive. On the world he will build his understanding—the Ministry of Science and Technology. He will be gentle with the weak and the oppressed, and fierce with the cruel and violent—Chedley TerrAd. He will judge people not by what they are, nor by what they say, but by what they do—the Ministry of Justice. He will speak the truth. He will keep his promises—the Ministry of Public Education. All these things he will share with me—Chedley High School.”
“So by my count that’s six ministries have mottoes from the Request; as do the Administration as a whole, and the Chief Executive. Am I right?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Okay, I want you to say the following: The Request has been hugely influential on the government.”
“Ewan, I can’t...”
“Look at me, my Pupil. Now listen. You are a controlled child. I don’t have all the controls as yet. However, I still expect you to obey my orders. So say that sentence right now, or it’ll be no orgasms for a week.”
My eyes bulged. My dick shot up. I struggled to remember what he’d said.
“The—the Request has been hugely influential on the government.”
I said it again. At his order, I said it ten times over.
“Now you’re going to say another sentence. No quibbling or delay, please. Say this: I am an exceptionally talented, charismatic, compassionate and beautiful boy. Say it!”
I said it. He made me say it as if I meant it, looking him straight in the eyes. Ten times over. I was already naked, but after this I felt stripped to the bone, humiliated beyond belief and flattered beyond bearing. I was also once again on the very point of coming.
He made me lie on my back. He turned the silence control on. Then his mouth was on me.
It took no more than fifteen seconds to bring me to another silent, writhing orgasm, one so strong this time that I almost lost consciousness.
I lay face down against him, my body satiated and exhausted, as he stroked my head and back and murmured unceasing endearments. That evening he had conveyed to me with complete clarity that my life had crossed over into a new and very different region. It was only the latest twist in a tornado of change which had swept over my life in those few weeks, and over my family, over the whole country: the tornado of revolution. By the work I had done and the words I had written, by my indenture, by his mentorship, I had become engulfed in that tornado, it had subsumed me in every way, mentally, spiritually, politically, sexually, and it would become both my friend and my enemy in all of these realms.
It should have terrified me, on that night in Sheffield, with the candles burning all round us, but it did not. I accepted my role, I truly joined my future, however it turned out to be.
And even as I lay there, watching the light flicker on the skin of his chest, I knew that there was something left unsaid, something between us we had not faced, something that lay against my heart like a thin shard of glass. That evening I chose to pass it by. No matter what happens, I thought, we shall have this evening, this evening among the candles; and I smiled. My voice still silenced, I let myself sink into the merciless tenderness of my mentor’s love.